Antique and vintage jewelry has a language all its own. The Jewelers Circle has put together a dictionary of some of the most common — and most unusual — terms to help you understand and appreciate these special jewels even more.
Acrostic jewelry, which was very popular during the Victorian era, is a romantic style that features several gemstones with the first letter of each gem used to spell out a term of endearment – generally dearest or regard. For example Diamond, Emerald, Amethyst, Ruby, Emerald, Sapphire and Topaz spells out “dearest”.
Photo: courtesy Anthea A G Antiques Ltd.
Adularescence is the glowing sheen of light that floats across a moonstone. A part of the feldspar family, moonstone is comprised of super thin layers of orthoclase and albite minerals, which alternate throughout the stone. When light hits the stone and falls between the layers, the light is scattered creating adularescence, the mystical color that floats across the stone like the full moon on a misty night. The highest quality moonstones have a blue sheen that flows across a colorless background, but that sheen may also be silver, white or rainbow. The optical effect of adularescence is what makes moonstone one of the phenomenal gemstones.
An aigrette is a hair ornament, often jeweled, that held a feather. Its name was derived from the French word for egret, a bird whose feathers were frequently used in these ornaments. Aigrettes were often made with a feather motif and could be worn with no feather. So many egret and other types of water bird feathers were used in the millinery trade in the late 1800s that it led to the formation of the Audobon Society in 1896 by Harriet Hemenway and Minna B. Hall. The two held tea parties for the Boston social set to convince fashionable women to stop wearing bird feathers in hats and jeweled hair ornaments.
Art Deco Jewelry
Art Deco, which encompasses all the decorative arts including jewelry, was from 1920 to 1939. It began to manifest a couple of years before World War I and took off when the war ended, building and evolving until World War II came along. The era is also known as the “style between the wars”. Art Deco was fully launched in 1925 at the Paris “Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industrials Modernes” where this new look was on full display. During those years jewelry styles evolved, 1920s Art Deco pieces were flat, linear, symmetrical, geometric, white on white, black and white along with bold color and long necklaces these motifs were all the height of fashion. In the 1930s Art Deco had bigger, wider bracelets; convertible jewelry and rounded scrolling forms. Bib and collar necklaces became more prominent. Brooches and dress clips were very important in this era.
Art Moderne Jewelry
Art Moderne is a term that is usually used for architecture, however, it also refers to jewelry of the late 1930s when the straight line, flat geometric style of Art Deco began to give way to curving lines, long horizontal forms and smooth dome shapes. Art Moderne was an avant garde design movement that began in the 1930s. It was influenced by machinery, geometry, aviation and automobiles with industrial and architectural references. Jean Després French Modernist tri-color gold bracelet, photo courtesy, Macklowe Gallery.
Alexandrite is a rare and valuable gemstone that changes color in different lighting. It’s a form of the mineral chrysoberyl. It appears green in daylight and red in incandescent (candle or lamp) light. The gem was originally discovered in the Ural Mountains of Russia in 1830 and was named after Czar Alexander II. Those deposits ran out and Alexandrite from the original find is usually found in antique or vintage jewelry. This June birthstone is currently mined in Brazil, East Africa and Sri Lanka. The color change properties of alexandrite make it one of the phenomenal gemstones which exhibit special optical effects.
To be considered antique, an object or piece of jewelry, that represents a previous era or time period, needs to be 100 years or older from the date on which it is purchased. Whatever the specific date is when a piece is purchased, it must be at least 100 years old on that date to be considered antique.
Art Nouveau Jewelry
The Art Nouveau jewelry movement began in France and Belgium during the late 1800’s around 1895, although some historians put that date a bit earlier at 1890. The movement ended with the start of World War I in 1914, or even slightly earlier according to some historians. While the movement was decidedly French, it did have a following in Avant Garde circles elsewhere in Europe and America. Two leading designers in this movement were Louis Comfort Tiffany and René Lalique. The style was characterized by large scale, enamel and colored gemstone pieces depicting naturalistic scenes and/or fanciful women, insects and stylized flowers.
The Asscher is a square shaped step cut, distinguished by 58 facets, with a high, two-step crown and a deep pavilion. When you look straight down into an Asscher cut diamond from the top, you will see an “X” that is formed by equidistant converging facets, earning the cut the nickname “hall of mirrors” for the amazing light reflection in the stone. The Asscher cut was very popular in Art Deco jewelry because its straight lines and angular form complemented the jewelry designs of that era. It was originally designed by the Asscher Diamond Company in 1902, which at the time was one of the world’s leading diamond firms. The company gained fame when its artisans cut the Cullinan and Excelsior diamonds, two of the largest gems ever discovered.
Asterism is an optical effect in a stone that causes a star to appear. The stone must be a cabochon cut for the star to be visible. The star is created when very fine but dense inclusions in parallel form reflect light inside the stone. Stones that display asterism are known as phenomenal gemstones. Asterism may be found in sapphires and rubies that present this optical effect, these gems are known as star sapphire and star ruby.
Au Jour Setting
Au Jour is a French word that literally means “open to the day”. An Au Jour Setting, is an open work back created by cutting the metal where the stones will be placed. These openings allow light to come through the gem giving it a brighter, livelier, and more sparkly appearance. Au jour settings started to be used around 1800, or so, prior to that most jewelry was in closed back settings.
First introduced in the 1920s, baguette diamonds, with their long, lean, linear shape, were the perfect complement to the flat geometric designs of the era. Baguette diamonds are rectangular step cuts with only 14 facets. Because of their shape, baguettes were named after the classic French bread. Baguettes faded in popularity after the Art Deco era and then had a resurgence in popularity during the 1950s. While baguettes were generally used as side stones, they were also used as the primary shape in some designs for a sleek icy look. Today, baguettes are used in myriad ways from side stones to the main stone.
A Ballerina ring is characterized by a center stone surrounded by tapered baguettes that seem to float like a ballerina’s tutu. This design became popular in the 1950s and remains a favorite style today.
A bandeau is a decorative headband that is worn low on the forehead and encircles the head. They are often worn as a type of tiara. The bandeau got its start in the Greco/Roman cultures when people often adorned their heads with wreaths made of precious metals and gems. The jeweled bandeau was popular in the very late 1800s and early 1900s — the late Victorian years and the Edwardian and Art Deco eras.
A bangle is worn around the wrist and is a circular, hard bracelet that is not flexible. Sometimes it is hinged to make it easier to put on and take off.
A long horizontal brooch, it may be made of all metal with gemstone accents, or it is sometimes designed as a row of colored gemstones or diamonds, or sometimes with a pattern in the center of the bar.
French for “beautiful era”, references the period in France after the Franco-Prussian war ended in 1871, some historians place the starting year as 1889 and others suggest the start date as 1901, when the reign of Queen Victoria ended and King Edward VII took the throne. The Belle Epoque came to an end in 1914 with the start of World War I. Jewelry of that time was characteristic of both the late Victorian era and the Edwardian years.
Berlin Iron, (Fer de Berlin) is one of the more collectible items of Georgian jewelry. It is also known as Fer de Berlin, which translates to Berlin Iron. In 1804 Napoleon I was ravaging Europe with war and countries needed money to stave off his attacks. Wealthy Germans gave their jewelry to the government to raise money in the fight against Napoleon. In exchange they were given Fer de Berlin — iron jewelry that was sand cast and lacquered black.
A bezel set is a type of setting that has a thin metal band that wraps around the girdle of a gemstone or diamond to hold it in place. Once the stone is placed in the setting the metal is then pressed down on the top edges of the stone to hold it securely.
A bib necklace is made up of multiple strands of fringe, jewels, pearls or other embellishments that fall below the collarbone and cover part of the chest. It may be circular or triangular in shape. There are many variations on this style of necklace, but it tends to be large in scale.
Photo: courtesy JS Fearnley
A bombé ring features a rounded top dome shape with plump rounded sides. This style is sometimes set with a center stone on the top and pavé around the rest of the ring, or it can be all pavéd, or it may be precious metal with gemstone accents. Bombé comes from the French word meaning bomb, because the style is rounded like a bomb.
A boule ring has a domed top, generally set with pavé gemstones, or a central gem at the top. Boule comes from the French word that means ball.
Brooch in the shape of a bow. The bow is a stylish motif in jewelry that was particularly important in Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian jewelry as well as jewelry from the 1940s.
A soft, flexible chain ornament that wraps around the wrist. It generally has a clasp to make it easy to put on and take off.
A brilliant cut is a diamond with a standard 58 facets that are placed on the stone to optimize light return creating the most sparkle and fire in the stone.
A cameo is a shell, agate or hardstone that is carved with a raised image generally depicting Roman Gods and Goddesses or portraits of women. The carving is created in such a way that the carving is one color while the background is another color all coming from the same stone, or shell. Cameos were very popular during the 1800s when tourists visiting Italy bought them as souvenirs.
Cannetille is very fine gold wire work that was used to form lightweight jewelry. It is three-dimensional and was inspired by embroidery. Cannetille was a popular style in the early 1800s.
Photo: Courtesy, Kentshire Gallery.
Carat is a unit of weight for diamonds and colored gemstones. The word is derived from carob. In ancient times before scales were invented, gem dealers compared the weight of a stone to carob seeds because they tend to be uniform in size. One carob seed was equal to one carat. Outside of the United States, carat rather than karat is sometimes also used to
indicate gold purity.
Champlevé enamel is created by hollowing out a design in metal by carving, etching, or casting. The hollowed out spaces are then filled with powdered enamel until they
are flush with the raised metal. Next the piece is baked and then polished. The metal stands out as a part of the design adding a textural element against the smoothness of the enamel.
Large earrings shaped like a chandelier that have elaborate designs and are generally comprised of many gemstones.
Photo: Courtesy, Jewelry World.
A channel setting is a type of setting where the gems are placed tightly together in a groove so that they are all touching. There are no prongs or other types of metal between the stones. The metal edges on the channel setting are folded over to hold the stones in place.
A charm bracelet holds one or more small ornaments (charms) that have personal meaning to the one wearing the bracelet. The bracelet is generally links with charms attached to the link. Sometimes a charm bracelet is a bangle with one charm attached. Charm bracelets were a favorite of Queen Victoria who was known gift them to other royals and nobles. The charms she
gifted were personalized to the interests of the recipient and it wasn’t long before all the aristocracy in Europe was wearing jingling charm bracelets.
Chatoyancy, also called chatoyance, is bands of light that are created by light reflection from tiny needle-like inclusions in the stone, it is also called cat’s eye. The word comes from the French phrase “ceil de chat”, which translates to cat’s
eye. Gems that have chatoyancy are considered phenomenal gemstones because of their unique optical effects.
Photo, courtesy, JS Fearnley.
A choker necklace is worn low on the throat and sits on the collarbone. It is a popular length for a pearl strand.
Circa is a term that is used when the fabrication date of a piece is approximate. Often with older pieces the exact date of manufacture cannot be determined because sales receipts and other paperwork that originally accompanied the jewel may no longer exist. In that case, a knowledgeable dealer will assign the piece a circa date based on its design and the way it was made. The circa date means that the jewel was produced within five years, either earlier or later, from the date cited.
The circle brooch is a brooch in the shape of a circle, with an open interior.
In Cloissoné enameling, thin metal strips or wires of gold, silver, brass or copper are twisted and bent into a pattern that is soldered to a metal surface. The partitions are then filled with enamel. Next the item is fired, then ground smooth and polished. The thin metal wires that are seen in the finished piece create the final pattern.
Photo: Courtesy, Macklowe Gallery.
Closed Back Setting
A closed back setting is when there is metal behind the stone on a piece of jewelry so that only the top of the stone is visible. Often used with foil backed gemstones to protect the foiling, or to make the color appear better.
Cluster earrings sit on the earlobe and are made up of a group of gemstones “clustered” together, frequently round, pear and marquise shapes are mixed in a cluster earring.
A cluster ring is created from a grouping of stones that are clustered together. It can be a mix of gemstones, such as diamonds mixed with ruby, sapphire or emerald, or all one gemstone. Cluster rings are often created
with round, pear and marquise shaped stones, together in one piece.
A cocktail ring is defined as a ring with a very large center stone, often adorned with diamonds. It can also be a large ring comprised of many small stones. It is generally worn on the right hand or on an index finger. Cocktail rings came roaring to the forefront of style in the 1920s when women purchased these rings for themselves and wore them on their right hand to show their independence.
A necklace worn high and tight on the throat, also called a dog collar. This was a popular style in the Edwardian era. King Edward VII’s wife, Alexandra, wore dog collars frequently, allegedly to hide a scar on her neck. As Queen she was a trendsetter and the style caught on during that time.
A type of setting with a thin metal band that wraps around the girdle of a gemstone or diamond to hold it in place. Once the stone is placed in the setting the metal is then pressed down on the edges of the stone to hold it securely. This setting leaves the front and back of the gem exposed.
Color Change Gemstone
A color change gemstone is when a stone noticeably changes color when seen under different light, such as daylight or incandescent light. Alexandrite is an example of a color change stone. Color change is a special optical effect and is considered a characteristic of a phenomenal gemstone.
Diamonds come in every color of the rainbow with yellow and brown being more common and blue,
green, orange, pink and red being the rarest colors. These diamonds get their color from various trace minerals or an anomaly within the structure of the stone. Colored diamonds are also referred to as “Fancy Color Diamonds”.
The conch (pronounced konk) pearl is one of the rarest and most beautiful pearls. Produced by the Queen Conch Snail, these pearls are
always natural and have a porcelain-like surface with a shimmering flame that comes from the layers of fibrous calcium that create the pearl. They are generally pink and come in various shapes.
A crown is a head ornament worn by royalty – king or queen — generally on state or ceremonial occasions. They have a base that encircles the entire head and are often adorned with jewels and may have a hat as part of its design. They tend to be heavy due to the weight of the precious metal and gems. Crowns are meant to denote authority and a connection to a higher power.
Photo: St. Edward’s Crown, Sir Robert Viner, 1st Baronet, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
A cuff bracelet goes three-quarters of the way around the wrist and then has an opening. The cuff is put on and removed by sliding the wrist through the opening, which is part
of the design.
A cultured pearl is formed when a human places an irritant in a mollusk prompting it to create nacre to soothe the irritation. The layers of nacre form a pearl. Cultured pearls grow on pearl farms — in oceans, rivers and lakes. Baby mollusks are nurtured in large nets until they are
mature enough to be nucleated, which takes about two years. Skilled technicians then gently and carefully implant a nuclei into the mollusk. From there the mollusk is placed back in the water for six months to two years. The longer the
mollusk stays in the water the larger the pearl.
A cushion cut is a square shaped diamond or gemstone with rounded corners, which gives it a plump, puffy pillow-like look. The shape originated in the 1800s and became popular because it sparkled especially well in candlelight, which was the main light source at the time. Because they were cut by hand, these diamonds are never exactly alike.
Photo: Courtesy, John T. Haynes.